MUHAMMAD Ali stated “I am the greatest”. He was one of the nominees in the sporting category in the recent series that the BBC ran to find the ‘Greatest Person of the 20th Century’.

Despite being the finalist to go forward from his group, he did not win the final honour. This went to Alan Turing from the scientist section, who had defeated Albert Einstein, Marie Curie and the Chinese Scientist Tu Youyou, who developed the cure for malaria.

I am sure that, if I asked you who you thought was the person who should have this honour, there would be a range of answers. Many names that might come up – Mother Theresa and Albert Schweitzer, for example - did not even make the short list for the seven groups. There would be a sense that none of us can be totally objective in this matter. It would depend on our interests, our views, even the fact of where we were born. At the turn of the century, “Time” produced a list of the 100 most important figures from 1900-2000. In their ranking, Albert Einstein topped the list; but in the BBC series, which was decided by a popular vote, he did not even win his own category. I am not going to say who I thought should have won, though two of the people I have great admiration for - Nelson Mandela and Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr – won the leader and activist sections respectively.

There is no doubt that all those who were on the short lists made huge contributions, though there were figures of huge influence in each group who still did not appear in the final. How people view success or greatness depends on how they see and understand the world. It will also have a large influence on how we live and interact with others. Great thinkers have made reflections on this matter, and there is nothing wrong with being successful or seeking to influence others.

Jesus spoke about this matter on one occasion when the twelve disciples were arguing about who was the greatest. He placed a little child among them and stated that whoever would be the greatest in the Kingdom of God should become like a little child. On another occasion, when he saw people at a feast seeking the best place, Jesus told a story about not seeking the honour, but instead taking the lowest place.

Jesus stressed that true greatness came out of serving others and he reflected this by his lifestyle. He served others, though he was not a doormat, and he encourages us to follow him in this way.

Rev. David Opie, Retired Baptist Minister